A social media post by Opposition Leader Simon Bridges this week went (yes, we'll say it) viral for all the wrong reasons.
In the April 20 comment, Bridges pointed out "the entire country has made huge sacrifices to ensure the four-week lockdown was effective".
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However, his ensuing criticism of the Government drew a swift and damning reaction. Comments on the post piled on. Many of the 29,000+, if not most, attacked Bridges for daring to criticise the Government during such a crisis. It's impossible to know how many commenters were genuine, and it appears many had not even read his post.
For the record, the 342-word post does not include the comment "the medicine is worse than the cure". Bridges stated this shortly after his Facebook post, at an April 20 press conference following the Government announcing its plan to move to level 3.
He did voice a similar concern in his post however, noting "that the harm of staying in lockdown will be greater than if we were to come out".
"We will no doubt see a rise in mental health problems and stress-related illnesses," he elaborated. "I also have real concerns about the delay in healthcare for some people, like cancer treatment, screening, and thousands of operations across the country."
There may well be some validity in Bridges' points, which have been raised elsewhere without such backlash. He said New Zealand was being held back because the Government had not used the lockdown period to fine-tune testing and tracing, and the availability of PPE hadn't been at the standard it should have been.
"The rate of testing for the first half of lockdown was low, work has only just begun on surveillance testing to confirm whether community transmission is occurring. Tracing is the biggest challenge and experts have identified major shortcomings in the methods being used by the Government."
Bridges also said rapid and accessible testing for workers with symptoms was essential to give small businesses the confidence to get back to work.
"The Government must now move as fast as it can to sort out the issues with tracing, testing and PPE so we can get our country moving again."
The Opposition's main role is to question the government of the day and hold it accountable to the public. This is the case no matter the circumstances.
Bridges has been criticised for choosing to commute between his home in Tauranga to chair the Epidemic Response Committee. Whether one agrees with his transit or not, few would disagree the committee has raised highly pertinent issues.
Walter Lippman is credited with saying: "In a democracy, the Opposition is not only tolerated as constitutional, but must be maintained because it is indispensable." We also now believe it was Evelyn Beatrice Hall who first wrote: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
Bridges is right to question the Government on its preparedness and response to this Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. To criticise him for speaking out is amiss. More to the point is whether any of his criticisms are valid.